February 07, 2013

Workplace bullying and harassment can have a devastating effect on victimized employees and the work environment at large. How can employers, unions and workers properly identify workplace bullying? What preventative steps can be taken to guard against harassment and threats? What are the components of a proper investigation once allegations of harassment have been made? How should employees who engage in harassing behaviours be disciplined? How should victims be protected against reprisal for making a complaint, and how can they be made whole for the harassment itself? In this session a panel of experts will address these and other questions, including:

    • How to identify bullying and harassment: How do the amendments to Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act (in Bill 168) define bullying and harassment? What is the difference between personal harassment and harassment under human rights legislation? Can gossip, swearing, isolation, or unfair treatment constitute bullying? Should a workplace try to come up with a comprehensive definition of harassment in its policies or collective agreement provisions? Can a single incident amount to harassment? What is the difference between harassing behaviour and rudeness or a difficult personality? Can off-duty conduct by employees constitute workplace harassment?
    • The roles of the parties: What duties and responsibilities of the employer, union and employees should be detailed in the collective agreement and/or a workplace policy regarding workplace harassment? How should an employer conduct an assessment of workplace violence and harassment risks? What information about actual or potential harassment should be provided by an employer to the union and employees? What privacy concerns may arise in regard to this information?
    • Responding to harassment complaints: How should a harassment reporting system be structured to allow employees to express their concerns? When can an employee refuse to work on the basis of harassment concerns? What sort of investigation must be done by the employer? Should the employer hire an external investigator, or can the investigation be done internally? What interim measures should be taken, such as removing a suspected harasser from the workplace, while the investigation is ongoing? What role should the union play in this process of reporting and responding to harassment complaints? Is an employee entitled to union representation during the investigation process? Who is entitled to the investigation report and any other documents or evidence arising from the investigation?
    • Protecting against reprisal: How should workplace anti-harassment policies address the issue of reprisals against complainants or witnesses? What confidentiality safeguards should employers implement during the investigation process to protect against reprisals? How should the confidentiality concerns of complainants be balanced against the procedural rights of the accused employee to know the nature of the allegations and have a full and fair opportunity to respond? What sort of union involvement can help decrease the risks of reprisal? What recourse is available to an employee who feels he or she has been a victim of reprisal for complaining about harassment?
    • Imposing discipline: Should employers issue “zero-tolerance” policies regarding workplace harassment? What factors will labour arbitrators consider in assessing the reasonableness of discipline? What factors support the termination of an employee for bullying or harassment? What if an employee’s mental illness caused him or her to engage in threatening or harassing behaviour?
    • Remedies for harassment: What remedies are available to an employee who has been victimized in the workplace? Should the employee seek redress at arbitration or before a human rights tribunal? Under occupational health and safety law? Under workers’ compensation law? In the courts? What remedies have different provinces established under legislation for workplace harassment and bullying?